Baltimore City hopes to open a coronavirus testing site in the parking lot of Pimlico Race Course by the end of this week, city officials said Tuesday.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the site is just waiting to receive testing kits.
Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said LifeBridge Health will be providing some of the clinical support for the site, and the Maryland Department of Health will be providing tests.
In addition to COVID-19 testing, the city is also setting up various telemedicine and other resources to allow Baltimoreans to obtain medical advice and treatment at home.
The city is building on a public-private partnership with local medical providers announced last week by staffing a call center with trained health care professionals who can advise people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, Young said.
Young said the call center will be “critical in supporting people from the safety of their homes.”
Based on predictive models, the city is expecting to see a surge in positive COVID-19 cases around late April or early May, Dzirasa said.
Accordingly, Young urged people to avoid hospitals and other health care facilities whenever possible in order to not overwhelm their capacity and resources.
James Matz, deputy chief of EMS for the fire department, said the city launched its Viral Syndrome Pandemic Triage Protocol three weeks ago, allowing EMS responders to treat individuals at home if they meet certain criteria.
To qualify, Matz said people must be 2-55 years old; have at least two of the following symptoms: fever, cough, body aches and sore throat; have no history of immunosuppression or use medication that suppresses the immune system; have no history of diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; have vital signs within normal limits; and be able to walk.
First responders are able to leave such patients at home once they have been cleared, and EMS will call them 24 hours later to make sure they are doing well and ask whether they need any other services, Matz said.
EMS will also be launching a telephone triage line, which will be manned by medical professionals to screen low priority calls. That phone line will operate seven days per week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Matz said.
He added that EMS is also looking to add a physician-directed telemedicine program.
Dzirasa said the city is excited about a partnership with the Maryland Department of Health to support nursing homes and other elder care facilities with “strike teams” made up of local and state health officials, Maryland National Guard members and health care providers, which Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday.
All fire department members must wear protective masks through the duration of their entire shift to lower exposure to coworkers who may be potentially infected by COVID-19, Fire Chief Niles Ford said.
“Our goal is not to alarm the public or alarm the community,” he said. “Our goal is to protect the community.”
Similarly, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said all members of the police department must wear N95 masks while on any calls for service and during any interaction with the public, including foot patrols and business checks.
Last week, the department implemented daily health checks and requested that officers check their temperature twice per day, Harrison said.
BPD announced yesterday that it had reopened the Southwestern District after disinfecting the station and all department vehicles after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
Harrison said at a separate press conference earlier on Tuesday that the Southwestern District had a total of three positive COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, 42 officers remain quarantined, while 101 officers have returned to work.
Across the whole department there have been 12 confirmed cases and 59 tests are pending. A total of 309 officers have been quarantined at some point since Maryland confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus a month ago, and there are 115 officers currently quarantined, Harrison said.